Car Parks of My Life began as an alternative travel journal. In 2018, my friend and I converted an estate car for overnight stays which opened up a soon-to-be sacred time between Friday’s work and Saturday’s adventure; that still evening space, before a new day out. In between week and weekend, I’d lie in Glen Etive, amongst Cairngorm spruce, or by Loch Maree with the wind nudging my car, steeped in memory and a powerful sense of place.
During the summer of 2020, Car Parks of My Life took on a greater sense of being between.
Under Beinn Eighe last night, I hung my head out the car window.
The stars prickled like fibre ends.
Clutches of poly clusters, glitter, glued together in a black sky.
That awful, all-pervasive glitter.
The dust that plumed when we popped the tube open.
The glitter we used to sprinkle then hear skitter off the card.
Merrily winking on the periphery of every glance.
I had just limped off the ridge above,
after falling on a knife-edge – femur first.
The thump, the sickening clam and the realisation that without contact,
it was up to me.
My leg hung lifeless for a minute, squint,
but returned with pain and the need to get down.
Back at the car,
my leg throbbed from the fall, but I didn’t care.
Overhead, the glistening glue held my gaze,
held me, healed,
as I slipped away.
Cloud sheets rippled overhead.
And the moonlight, pale enough to fold in a breeze,
The Five Ridges
You wonder what it’s like to solo five ridges on the North Face of Ben Nevis in a day,
so you plan a ‘recce’.
That morning, standing in the Car Park, you realise ‘recce’ is a one-word excuse for going slow.
So with a full heart, you set a fast pace.
Your run to the CIC Hut passes in a blaze of uphill effort and melodic techno.
Within 55 minutes, you’ve become stupidly happy.
You pass a figure, like you, amongst the clunky rocks,
but 70 years old now, his keen eyes and strong hands move slower than before.
You tied his laces in a Glasgow shop six years ago,
while he spoke about linking the scrambles.
He’s pleased to see you running.
You press on your knees until North East Buttress,
the cloud clears from the summit.
Hands up climbing now.
Wrong line, right line, follow crampon scratches, airy ledges . . .
You pull hard through the overhanging ‘man trap’ and find the ‘40ft corner’ damp.
Soloing this on slippery footholds above 1000ft of space is an experience you will later describe as ‘dark’.
Eventually, you reach the summit plateau: sun, life, dry holds, ecstasy.
2hrs 18mins via North East Buttress – not bad.
You note it for a ‘sub-2’ attempt.
Down-climbing Tower Ridge, you pass your man again,
leaning steady on ‘The Gap’.
The reunion is quick,
his quietness assures you,
you part ways.
You motor up clean rock on Observatory Ridge.
The line is steep and choreographed, and you will remember this in fast, airy blues.
The depth below increases, the summit arrives fast,
and you scamper over hot rocks to descend Ledge Route.
You lose your way in the sun,
waste 15 minutes and curse your ginger genes.
In the gully, you listen for water.
Your third refill of the day comes from moss amidst the scree.
Squish the bottle into it. Wait.
The still, dank air cools your limbs,
and for one moment, you lose your will.
You feel the vessels calm, your skin resensitise,
but it’s not time yet.
You push the line between running down a gully and falling down a gully,
then traverse tipping boulders and force your empty legs up Castle Ridge.
Time for music. Trad, celtic, whatever keeps the pace.
Cyclical thoughts – endurance as love – enduring love – I love endurance – blah blah blah
You reach the plateau again and stumble down rocks. A new-born deer, giraffe on skates. Ankle bones grinding.
Rock into tussocks, tussocks into bog, the river, and the beating white path.
Fast to the car and straight to the burn.
I parked in the spruce trees and once again, remembered this:
The cousins were young. We were at Grandma’s cottage in the West Highlands.
A renovated railway cottage,
Between thick woods and a river.
Gas lamps and no electricity.
We got lost in the spruce trees for the afternoon.
Across the threshold, our ground became a soft floor and our eyes adjusted.
My cousins’ heads bobbed in front of me as we ran deeper, dipping and cresting the needle-quilted roots.
The unfelt wind that buffeted above us,
The darkness and staged light held me spellbound.
Sphagnum bloomed in gloom, electric green,
And the sun cast jittering shapes on the tree trunks – our only reminder of the real world above.
5 years old, I had clearly stepped through the wardrobe.
I parked in Glenshee and hurried on my skis.
The sun set to my right (last of the Vitamin D), a clear sky paled to my left,
And before me a golden blue singed the windblown crests of snow.
Umami of the gloaming.
I put my head down and charged to the summit.
The skis slid and slapped, my ankle flex flicked but never fought the motion, my arms pushed down in rhythm.
At one point, the slope steepened and turned to hard ice.
‘Good,’ I thought. ‘Now I can use the crampons.’
They worked a treat.
Full of breath, I rose onto a silent plateau and bathed in ascending pastels.
The peaks below me glowed as texture dissolved in their milky luminescence.
My heart was bursting. I thought of everyone I wanted to be here, the isolating,
the people lost last year, people to meet this year –
I saw everything through their eyes.
I skied down steep powder into a coire. Grey peaks and divots caught the last light
as I carved them into new shapes, left and right. It got dark and I laughed.
‘Good,’ I thought, ‘I’ve never skied in the dark before.’
Head torch on, that old familiar bubble narrowed my vision to a few bright metres.
Crystals hissed across my skis.
I went for an adventure – to cover ‘new ground’.
But as usual, it just felt like joining the dots.
There were other things to find that night.
Glen Coe Morning
Broad colours arch a rising smile over Rannoch Moor –
Long teenage barbecues and ‘empties’,
Some of which I went to, the best of which I imagined.
We would walk back following the white dotted lines,
Figures hung-over by the arc of morning rise,
A suburban sky, colours held between Butney blocks and housing banks,
A sky like the deep gloss gradient on the bottom of my skateboard,
Or those cold cardio skies on the walk-in with Dad over Glen Coe.
This morning, I sip coffee in the back of my car,
Coiling a spring,
Sprung under colour.
I parked in Glen Feshie and cycled high into the night.
Empty and tired from a long drive, I relished the uphill chore of Sgurr Goath and my eyes brightened.
I didn’t check my torch batteries because something in me wanted them to run flat.
I needed a longer night out . . .
Four years ago in the Cairngorms, Rob and I burrowed our way through 70mph winds to reach a climb.
200ft of pristine, architectural granite – steep and danceable.
I took my first winter fall.
I was hanging delicately by the picks, and suddenly, they pinged out.
I burst backwards into the streaming air, plummeting down the buttress,
My axes tethered in orbit around my head.
Topping out, we forced an abseil into the roaring dusk.
I lost sensation in my toes and it would be weeks before I felt them again.
We had no map, no GPS or phone, no visibility.
We marched a downward, relentless line over dark ridges, through boulder fields and rivers, urgently.
Eventually, I saw the distant car park lights – a sodium smudge in spindrift.
Back on board the tarmac, snow brushed my aching feet,
and I glowed with relief.
That night over Glen Feshie, the mountain biking passed easily.
Hogmanay, 2020 – waiting for sleep in the back of my car.
Alone in a bag I once squeezed inside
with cousins, playing slugs.
Tomorrow, another 4am start.
Another winter fight.
Battered by daily winter climbs, my chilblains are raw,
I’ll swing my axes on automatic and shoulder a pack like it’s a pillow.
The wind will thread through my expectant skin and I’ll stop wincing.
I see every sunrise and sunset.
Long shadows and the pepper of distant textures play under my lids as I drift off – reminiscent of those twisting kaleidoscope toys I peered at my brother through.
Triangular glances in glaring array,
I saw his warm hands on the kazoo with a lego block stuck to his knee,
Recording over another cassette.
Later, holding Irn Bru sorbet –
Later, singing with his arms out
And now, between countries,
Glancing through broken reception,
threading gaps in our time,
On screen upon screen we’ll chat:
‘I’ll walk you round my room –
you walk me round yours.’
I hate this car park.
It bristles with construction gear and lurid lights.
In the dark, it could be a Motherwell industrial estate.
I reach the ridge and push down on frosty granite,
high-stepping like a toddler on the stairs.
The stairs lead to my room for the night,
a barely detectable dish on the plateau.
Going light, I haven’t the clothes to stop but I have the bag to sleep in,
so I squirm into it as quickly as I can.
Icy ground crackles and breaks beneath me.
A wind eddies from left to right,
Gusts grow on distant slopes,
Sleep is slotted between chilly spells and, eventually,
the dark lightens.
Moray | Orkney
Parked near the sea, I press the door open.
I walk through mounting textures of sound down the farm roads to the coastline,
leaning cosy against the blowing rain.
They’re like the Orkney roads on Papa Westray
with the long straights and changing horizons.
The longest lead to the North End – full of cliffs and craters.
Some craters were for tenants to pay their rent in kelp before money arrived,
others created by Royal Navy shells during target practice.
And the sound that June,
The wind on one ear drum,
Hissing shingle and clattering pebbles,
Rattling cattle grids,
Seals in summer night,
The gulls in slack iodine air,
The reeling terns before they migrated,
The mumble of company.
A Saturday pub room with Margaret playing the squeezebox.
And the ferry roar – always heard in anticipation of something.
I park in the dark with a heavy heart,
A backlit screen tells me I’m by the sea.
By morning, a roar hangs grey overhead.
The boom of waves replaces traffic
As I make my way to the sea.
This weekend, alone, I’m cold with the loss of someone
I’d hoped to be here.
Next year, I’d relish the place.
I’d overlay memories,
Reeling between friends and quarries,
Down electro driven motorways.
Folding into long-time-no-see arms –
the crunch of pastry in my pocket.
I’d wake up in the dunes with the sun on my eyes
And roll into the sea.
This morning, I walk to the water,
Sternly, through the streaming foot-depths,
Into that knee-high calm,
Then powerful waves.
The buoyancy of salt –
Legs lifting, belly bobbing to meet the air,
As happy as I was held two weeks ago –
Is too much to bear.
The warm-washed sea churns around me,
Crushing sand, weed and twigs into slurry and froth.
And those tankers,
Like bricks beneath a plum horizon –
My central belt sea.